Invisible Stars24 mins 236 24 mins 236
“There goes the final whistle! Regal FC are the Champions! Initially down 0-1 to the Warriors, who had a good opening 10-15 minutes but it was the sensational Ziego, who turned things around, with a brilliant display of skills, sheer pace, technique and absolute presence of mind, steering Regal FC to the title for a second time in a row, scoring 2 and assisting another. Regal FC finish the game 3-1, their third consecutive title. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Ziego Naffah, for a third consecutive season, lifts the spirit of the team and leads from the front, it was a spectacular team effort from a club, who restarted their goals with a new project, from the last 3 years and boy has it paid dividends.” beamed the 1st commentator, Roger.
John, the second commentator exclaimed, “For a 20-year-old, he is WAAAYY mature for his age, he just brings that positivity and the team spirit like he’s a veteran, taking command of his fellow teammates. The fact that, the average age of this team is 26, is what startles me. He’s a kind of player, whose one or two run-ins into the opposition half, inspire and bring out that fighting spirit. If you notice, the initial 10-15 minutes for Regal FC were quiet and, on the ropes, but as things started settling, Ziego’s inspirational run-ins and a few plays, really got Regal FC’s engine revving and from there on went full throttle. Boy! What. A. Player! Roger! What a player!”
Among the wild celebrations that started in the stadium, Ziego, the calm, composed and quite character that he was, searched a certain someone in the crowd, in a particular section, where the tickets were cheaper and usually sold to the lower classes as a gesture of goodwill from the club itself. He then saw an elderly woman with a kid roughly around 10-11 years old and ran towards her. Ziego shouted, “Tapi!!! Tapi!!! Oh my god! We did it!” He went up to her, hugged her and handed his jersey to the kid, who was obviously shocked to see his idol, right there in the flesh. Tapi then replied “He’s my grandson, I had just told him that we had got the tickets, but didn’t tell him about you, considering the importance of the match, didn’t know which way the match would go, wouldn’t want him to be disappointed”. “I know, I know, luckily the team responded well after going a goal down!” Replied Zi as he was affectionately called by the fans. Before he could say anything further, the crowd erupted in unison chanting ‘Zi, Zi, Zi, Zi’ and as things were starting to get out of control for the stewards, Tapi said “Congratulations Zi! Now, go back to your team, you are missing out on the fun!” Zi braced her and the kid, who was still frozen on the sight of seeing the record goal scorer in the competition for a 2nd straight season as well as the player of the match and competition.
As he went back and joined his teammates for the trophy ceremony, the noise in the entire stadium was deafening! The celebrations lasted whole night, but Zi had retired midway for calling a couple of his family members. The next morning his roommate, Sergio, who was still high on the success as well as the spirits from last night, asked him, “Hey, who was that old lady you were talking to last night in the stadium? Was she your Granny?”
Zi replied, while having moments of flashbacks, “No! she’s not my granny, but is no less than one for me. She and her husband owned a grocery store back in our place. At times, which was most of the time, since, dad was always moving in and out of jobs, not his fault, so, we would run out of cash at times and they would provide us groceries on credit, but then would never ask, taunt or force us to clear our pending dues. Even if we didn’t go to the store to buy groceries out of sheer embarrassment, they would have it sent over to our home by one of their staff. It was only after my bro Alfredo, the eldest started earning some decent amount of money, were we able to pay them back.”
“In the midst of all this, Mr. Rodriguez, passed away, despite things being difficult for her, she continued this kind gesture”. When we asked her to stop, since, it would take a toll on her financially, she would reply “What can I say, the ‘Rodriguez’ invest in people, between money and people, we go with people” she would say with a smile and tears in her eyes thinking about Mr. Rodriguez!
“Whoa!” exclaimed Sergio “that really is something”.
“Yep” replied Zi, with his eyes filled up by now, “If they would have stressed on the money or didn’t provide the grocery in the first place, I wouldn’t have been here, probably must have been working on the docks!”
“Oh Boy! That is such a great gesture!”
“Yes! Even after paying up our amount, we are still indebted to her, because honestly it isn’t about the money but the timing, like let’s say, even if we make all the money in the world, we sure as hell, can’t buy time, right! So anyway, enough of me, what’s your plan, how are you going to spend the time off?”
“Not sure yet, but party like there’s no tomorrow, what about you?”
“Nothing” Zi replied with a shrug, “Just catching up with friends and family.”
A few days later, in the headlines,
‘A drug addict caught trying to sell a Championship medal.’
‘Drug peddler caught trying to sell Ziego Naffah’s Championship medal.’
‘Ziego Naffah’s championship medal stolen.’
‘Championship Medal for sale!’
A homeless, drug addict and a drug peddler, was caught trying to sell, Ziego Naffah’s Championship medal, it is however, unknown as to how did he get the medal in the first place, burglary? The very reserved Ziego has not released an official statement yet and has been unavailable for comment. Charges of theft and burglary have been pressed against the man identified as only Ryan, for now. If found guilty, he could be looking at 5-7 years in prison.
In further development, Mr. Ziego has dropped by at the local police station, for the case of the stolen medal and burglary. Sources from inside the police station reveal that Mr. Ziego has denied to press charges against Ryan and it seems that he also might know him personally! Which is surprising! How would two people at the opposite end of the society be related. So, the questions arise, was Ryan Ziego’s dealer? Did Ziego buy drugs from Ryan and while in his home for delivery, he would have stolen the medal and since Ziego does not want these details to be out, he isn’t pressing charges, to save himself from the embarrassment that he did indeed do drugs. Was Zi blackmailed by Ryan, on spilling his beans on drug abuse? Did Ziego save his own image by not pressing charges?
Or is it that while delivering the goods to Ziego, Ryan saw the opportunity to steal the medal in his absence? Probably, Ziego did not have money on him to pay the drug peddler, so he handed him his medal as a part of the payment, only to take it back later. Such is addiction, an evil that cannot be fought and would certainly suck everything from you.
“My kid really looked up to him, now with these speculations, if proven true, it would be such a fall from grace for him” said a man in his statement. “Whatever stuff he’s getting is pretty A-grade, top goalscorer, 2 seasons in a row, must be right out of some science lab” said another man.
“Drugs! no drugs, the guy won us the championship, he’s got this amazing team spirit, I’d vote him for president, I don’t care” stated a supporter.
“We got high profile politicians doing some really nasty stuff and they walk, Free! Why should a guy who has won so much for the city be charged?” echoed another fan.
The media, went into a frenzy over the Ziego story, headlines, sports news and even weather segments to some extent got a piece of it. They squeezed every bit of primetime juice out of this story, they just would not let it go! The board thought, over the course of time the story would lose steam since the various tests for banned substances were negative. But it didn’t! It was over a month and ‘Drug Z’, ‘Don Ziego’, were still being headlines. Regal FC, was a club with a clean image and well respected even by their opponents and rivals. They had won the most ‘fair play’ awards than any other team, in the history. They took care of their fans, helping them financially and professionally, reached out to the city and society with the winnings earned from the various cups and championships they won. Also, set up old age homes, orphanages and even care centres. “They are like an NGO playing football, they’d start a campaign for saving kittens from the trees in sometime”, quipped one of the executives of a rival club. But it was all friendly banter, Regal FC had unmatched respect in the eyes of one and all. So, the board had enough of this humiliation. Internally, if it was, what the press was saying and making it to be. They were ready to let Ziego go, their best player in years! Sold! To the highest bidder, unless, Zi himself comes out and explains the situation. Holds a press conference and ends this once and for all.
Zi was in a dilemma, he never did press conferences or interviews, at the most, his interviews were the 1–2-minute Man of the match interviews. He wasn’t a media darling of sorts, neither was he a social media savvy player like most players his age. There were 2 options, he maintains his dignity and leaves for another club, with a no-question asked policy, go to a new city, get a new start or give a press conference and clear the air. The club and the city gave him a lot and he could not just turn his back on it and walk away. The people of the city loved him and his family, gifts and greetings would pour in at his home. The city was his home now, he thought, though he did not grow up and had moved in because of the club, the love and hospitality of the people in the city is what made him feel, it was at Regal FC and this city that he belongs. Zi finally made up his mind, he had a discussion within his family, they too were confused as to how and why would Zi get involved in and with a drug peddler. In the meeting, the board stressed on Zi to hold a press conference and clear the air about the situation, but he insisted, he wouldn’t feed the news and has no intention of becoming a part of the media circus, which had already burnt his image, almost beyond repair. One of the board members, requested “Zi, you are good as gold for this club and city, don’t let that go down the drain, because, on a personal level, I want you to wear that jersey with your head held high.”
Wherein he was interrupted by another senior member “You are already a legend out here and, in the game, why do you want to ruin it”?
Zi replied firmly, “I am not doing any press conference, to give any explanations or clarifications”!
Mr. Robert, angrily retorted “You….are ….trending!!! On number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, imagine, top 5 trends are on you and your little escapade to the other side. You have to clear this mess up, now that, Regal FC has been dragged into it, or we begin to discuss other options, lot of offers out there!”
Zi snapped “Are you threatening me with a transfer request”?
To which, a board member interrupted “Let’s not even go there, I’m sure, this can be settled amicably and with the best of interest for both parties. Let’s say Zi, we give you two days’ time, think over it, think about the club’s reputation, your reputation, the respect, the love, this is something that money cannot buy! Don’t throw it away, for whatever reasons you think are right! This has been your home, son! And you are part of this wonderful family. You can have the press conference your way, any daily or tabloid you are comfortable with, the board would definitely agree on that, but please, the board has unanimously voted that you hold a press conference and give your side of the story.”
So, they left the decision, entirely with Zi, it was his call.
Z called up his agent Bruno Jacques, they were pretty close, he looked up to him as an older brother, because he was roughly his older brother Alfredo’s age and Bruno genuinely looked after his client, friend and younger brother. Bruno, back in the days, having been a player himself, a pretty good one as well, had his career shortened after a horrendous foul on him. The club left him in the dark, with the payments, his contract was terminated and Bruno was all on his own, medical expenses, rent etc. Bruno, was a fine prospect and was quite famous in the footballing circles. What and how the situation went down for him was quite unfortunate. But, as they say, a sport is as much about having a heart as much as having skills, technique and trophies. The players association, felt for Bruno, hence they started a campaign to fund his medical expenses and also his home. They moved the hat around, collecting funds, anyone and everyone who wanted to chip in, could and would. Bruno, was very touched, could not thank the players and people helping him out and wanted to know, who started this campaign, to his surprise, it turned out that it was a then 17-year-old kid, Ziego Naffah! Bruno, got in touch, thanked him and cried, as he was the eldest son in the family and that he was a bread earner of sorts! This gesture, really helped him and his family get through this tough time.
Zi replied “I know how it feels, I have a brother, roughly your age, firstly, he gave up the sport because of me and I am not even half the player he is, secondly, he also had similar issues, which was another reason why he gave up on football. He’s the one who is handling the payment and transfer of funds, financially, he’s the guy”.
Bruno, interrupted, “As of now, I don’t have the fees to pay him but..” to which Zi cut him saying, “Bruno, its ok! You don’t have to pay anything to anyone, Alfredo, kind of thinks, that had someone done the same for him, he too would have sailed through and could have been back in the game. Unfortunately, there wasn’t and he couldn’t, that’s when, your news came out, he asked me to check on your status on knowing your situation and the financial trouble your club put you into, he offered his help.”
Bruno confused, “But then, he would be investing his time right”
Zi said “He does it on weekend, since, he’s into finance, so it kind of works out for him”. He told me
“You know Zi, the important thing is, there shouldn’t be another Alfredo!”
Bruno in tears and in debt, replied “If in the future, there is anything that you need or want and if I can be of any assistance, please do let me know, I will do anything and everything in my power to help you out”!
Bruno, got into scouting players and getting deals done, since, he was relatively new to this part of the game, the big clubs did not deal with him and the mid-table clubs had their own agents, the one’s left were low lying teams, who used scouts on a ‘hire and fire’ basis, no long term commitments! It did work for Bruno, but as any individual, Bruno wanted to make it big, get that one signing or player who would catapult him in the big league. The opportunity came, when Zi turned pro. They wanted a reliable agent, someone who wouldn’t want to milk money out of Zi’s contract and when he got in touch Zi and Alfredo smiled and told Bruno “Look and say no further, brother”.
Zi visited Bruno, amidst a huge media following him and tailing him. They sat down with a cup of coffee and Bruno began with “Well, Zi, the situation is bad and getting worse, don’t know what to say, look I know a lady who is a friend, how about we fix up a meeting and you tell your part of it.”
Zi replied “I don’t know Bru, looks like it could get worse, what are all the offers on the table?”
Bruno responded “Zi, Zi, Zi!!! You are like a brother to me and you are my only client till now, trust me, I’d make more money on your transfer than you staying at Regal! Falcons have offered me massive perks, not in the contract, just to have you in their team. But that isn’t me, I owe my career and life to you two.”
He sighed and continued, “Running away from a situation is the worst thing you can do, especially when you know that you are not at fault and I don’t know what and how of it, but I’m sure, you do have something to say and you have nothing to do with it, Amy, I’m sure you’d remember her, your first interview! She’s still the soft spoken one, that she was, she’d be good”.
Zi still looked confused but was convinced, “Hmm, Ok, but then I want you to be there, when I meet her, I do remember her but that was long time ago and time and fame changes people!”
“Yes, surely, whatever makes you comfortable, she’s not a fire spewing journalist or reporter, but then anyway will ask her not to cross the line, I guess you have met her on two occasions, she interviewed you ” Bruno replied with a wink.
Amy arrived at Zi’s residence, with Zi and Bruno already present. As they moved around and arrived at the place where the trophy cabinet was placed. Bruno and Amy, were surprised to find it empty!
Amy while still in shock, questioned “So, where are all your trophies, did Ryan steal everything? What happened?”
Zi, still blankly starring at the cabinet, started speaking “He didn’t steal it, I gave it to him!”
Both Bruno and Amy were shocked and before they could ask a question, Zi continued.
“I am standing in here, in this house, with all this money, love and respect, he is one of the reasons for it. He took the fall for me, sort of bailed me out from a situation, I could have never come out from!”
Amy still confused, “I….I don’t understand!”
Zi, still starring at the empty cabinet, continued “We hung out together in the neighbourhood, back then dad did odd jobs money wasn’t easy to come by. The academy trials were coming up, they wanted kids to show up in proper attire, most importantly shoes, now I didn’t have good football boots and there was no way I could ask for money at home.”
“I was tensed, I really wanted to go for it, because I knew it, I could make it.
Ryan, saw me tensed, he was my friend and always believed in me, taking a drag from a cigarette, he asked me ‘Hey! What’s wrong?’
“I explained him my situation to which he laughed and replied ‘Hey! That’s the thing that got you all messed up? Razor Ryan, is here! I cut through any situation buddy and the least of my worries is money!’ ”
“He was and used to be into drugs, like….. middle man of sorts. It was simple case, take the drugs and sell it, you get your commission, also, take a bigger slice out by selling it at a higher price and that is where he said I could get or make that money for those boots, now, since, he lived a day at a time, he usually didn’t have the money. But he cut me a deal, he had 10 packets, gave me 5 first and then said ‘Nah, you take 3’. We fixed a price, over and above anything was mine, I was genuinely amazed, cause the way I saw it, I could buy a complete kit just by selling those 3 packets. He saw the glitter in my eyes, the love for the game and how much I wanted my dream to come true.”
“So, we moved towards our respective spots, mine was in one of the dark alleys, I successfully sold 2, got a good cut as well. Kept the money in a secret compartment of the bag, that I carried around. I could have stopped there, turned around and given the last packet to Ryan saying I’m good, but greed got to me and I thought how about one more, sell the last packet and I would be able to buy something extra, buy the kit! I moved towards another block and to my surprise saw two cops standing there. I just froze, the cops sensed something, pointed towards me and started to move towards me, I couldn’t move, I just stood there, motionless, blank! All of a sudden there was a push from behind, I fell to the ground and thought, well, that’s it, I’m busted and all of a sudden someone started punching and kicking me, he put his hand in one pocket of mine and took out the packet. I thought probably it was an ambush, must be a third officer. But the cops came running and separated the assaulter from me, to my surprise it was Ryan, I didn’t understand, I thought Ryan was a snitch and had framed me.”
“But then, he started abusing and saying ‘You piece of shit, you think you can just take my stuff and disappear, this is my stuff, nobody takes it’ and still tried to kick me. ‘I drop a packet, instead of giving it back to me, this jack ass, quietly tries to walk away with it!’
Only then, I understood, that he was trying to save me. One of the cops, helped me up and said, ‘Kid, are you into drugs?’
‘No, Sir’ I replied.
‘How and why did you take the packet, do you know what was in it?’
‘Ahh!! No sir, I saw the packet contained something expensive, since the people he was selling it to were paying a huge amount for it, when he dropped it ….. I ….um… I picked it up and tried to walked away, like he said’. That is what happened, sir.’
‘You two, don’t know each other?’
‘You are in for some real trouble, wait till I get my hands free, I’ll give you a whopping, you won’t be able to pick anything up’, Ryan interrupted.
‘Hey! Shut up! Will you? Put him in the car, we’ll book him for possession and dealing, low-life trash’
‘What about this kid’? Questioned another officer.
‘Naah!! Let him go! Wrong place, wrong time, wrong person, kid just tried to lift stuff off this junkie here, he doesn’t know anything.’
‘Hey kid! Lifting stuff off people is not cool, ok, you could have got yourself into trouble! I’m going to let you off with a warning, but your name or you pop up again in one of these dark alleys. I swear, I will make sure you regret it!’
‘Yes sir! I will’
“As they were taking Ryan away, he looked at me and winked and nodded, he did it on purpose, he knew, they would mess him up big time and yet gave himself up to save me.”
“After they left, I ran, I kept running, didn’t stop, went to a quiet corner and cried, couldn’t stop crying. Poor Ryan, I thought would get 5-7 years for possession and drug dealing. I somehow, gathered myself together, went ahead and bought those shoes. Made me forget about the entire episode. They were light, comfortable and I was fast as lightning in them. Unstoppable. The first trial I had gone with the 99999 boots were……..somehow, didn’t feel right, I wasn’t fast enough, which is why they asked me to play a different position, I did do well, sending in 7 assists, but I believe they were testing the striker, so I had to clear this second trials, I just had to!”
“I went for the trials, it went well, according to me, but guess what?”
“They said ‘I was too fast, they wanted someone, who could maintain the composure of the game, at least wait for his teammates to catch up, as of now they would keep my name in the second list, will notify me once they feel like they need someone like me!”
“I was disheartened and confused, I got what I wanted, those boots were perfect, the earlier boots were worn out, heavier and made me slower, didn’t understand what went wrong. The first trial made me switch positions, when I wasn’t too fast, the second club thought I was too fast. Ryan, unfortunately, was sentenced to 5 years for being in possession and selling drugs. I consoled myself or rather tried to get rid of the guilt, saying he was already into it and probably, had it coming!”
“A few days later, I got a call from a representative of a club, “Hi! I’m Ralph Robben from Regal FC, it is my pleasure to inform you that we have selected you for another session, as we believe you have the right amount of composure, along with skill, speed and technique, would be available to further discuss the details as well.”
“I was ecstatic, I had cleared the first trials in one of the most esteemed clubs, but then I thought, ‘Wait! It’s the first club, the one where I wore the old, worn out boots!’ ‘How and why?’ I questioned myself but I let the thought go and broke the news to everyone.”
“I met up with Mr. Ralph, as always I was early and so was, he. He was one of those people who would just come and sit in the stands, get a feel of the environment. For him it was a place to find peace, which was also the best time to approach him, fresh mind and a fresh cup of coffee. We had a brief discussion on what to look forward to, what the club expects from me. Now! Mr. Ralph was a very jovial person, had met him a few times earlier as well. I respected him a lot, he always thought I had that spark in me and would be a real success. He would always encourage me.”
“So, I had to ask, ‘Mr. Ralph, how did I get in? Like, I didn’t have the proper boots, in this trial, how did I go through?’
“Mr. Ralph, a man of few words, said something that changed my outlook towards life. ‘Well, Z, you succeeded in the 1st trial because, in it, you played as Z, as you! As simple as that!’ I still look confused. He looked at me and rolled his eyes, ‘Well, for the second trial, the Z that showed up was the Z, that wanted to impress someone else, played for others. Ok! Here’s the thing, if I try to drive around my Honda as a Ferrari, what do you think will happen?’
I replied, ‘Hope you know a good mechanic, Mr. Ralph’, with a smile.”
“Mr. Ralph said, ‘Exactly boy! I cannot imagine the damage that I would do to the engine and the car on the whole. So, consider your situation in the same way, your natural style went well with Regal FC, it suited them and you, with Warriors FC you tried to alter your natural game, you wanted to play to impress, how many seasons would you last that way. So, trust & believe in yourself and your ability and not the boots!’
“As he poured out the coffee from his thermos, he said, ‘Be true to yourself, play with what you have and how you are kid, just do your best and leave it, cause if you don’t, in the long-run, it’ll burn you out.’ With a shrug, he said ‘If it’s bound to happen, it’ll happen.’
“I pondered on it, a lot. Mr. Ralph was indeed right, I thought if I deserve it and if its meant to be, it’ll happen, all I got to do is, stay confident and do my best. Mr. Ralph, was another foundation for my success. So, I owed him, hence, I have always given him a few of my medals and trophies. He could have just persuaded Warriors FC and me and got his commission, I would have been a one-season wonder and poof! Just like that faded away, but he did what was best for me, that was selflessness and to this day, I am indebted to him for this decision, he being humble enough not to take credit for it, but we all know, how big a part his decision was for us.’
Amy amazed, “So you win and just give away all your medals and trophies?”
Bruno interrupting “I’m sure it’s not only the medal and trophies but cash rewards as well! So you yourself handed over that medal to Ryan!!!”
Zi turned away from them and partly looked zoned out, started speaking slowly,
“I have seen people sacrifice so much for me, no matter what I do, I cannot repay them, all this fame and money, prizes and earnings, means nothing to someone who gave up on their dreams so that I could fulfil mine, my brother Alfredo, started working early, so that he could fund me. Bruno and our B-team manager Mr. Felix, made sure I was fully fit and well fed. The others I mentioned about! You see these people gave their time to me, a part of their life we know, they wouldn’t get back and neither could be bought with all the money in the world. So, as I see it, part of me tells me it’s just an empty cup and a piece of metal, if you don’t have the people to celebrate with!”
Zi turned around, and replied with a smile “Some reach for the stars. Some push others towards them”.
Quote from the movie - The Aeronauts
'Some reach for the stars. Some push others towards them.' - John Trew (The Aeronauts)